When I attended Donald Trump’s inauguration, I wore sparkly underwear as a form of personal protest. Donald Trump represents a testosterone-driven, straight, angry male; meanwhile my metallic silver boxers were my way of proudly declaring my dissenting homosexuality. Though nobody around me knew it, my undergarment was a concealed middle finger to my general surroundings.
This summer I attended a program for high school students entitled “The Presidency and the Press,” at Franklin Pierce University, after which some students were invited to attend the inauguration. I left the program confident that if I was going to D.C., I would be seeing Hillary. Everybody was. We were wrong.
I was informed that I was chosen as an attendee on the Monday after the election. Another way to phrase that is, “I was informed that I was chosen on the Monday following the day that I stress vomited, barely slept, and got told that I had begun to exude the color gray.” What an odd feeling it is to entirely dread an event that you are proud to be chosen for.
The group Chosen Ones consisted of bright students from around New Hampshire. I was made aware of one Trump supporter in the group, though if anyone else was I’m sure that the general air of “liberal” would be enough to quell them from speaking up too loudly about it. That demographic was nothing new to me; none of my friends supported Trump, and neither did just about any of the adults around me. The only loud Trump supporters that I encountered came from my mother’s side of the family, and I’d already spent a lifetime dismissing their politics.
I left with 15 other high school students on Tuesday. We spent Wednesday and Thursday talking to various political persons. Both days left our group tired to the bone but pleased by our efforts. Then Friday came. I was nervous. I knew I would have trouble getting interviews out of staunch Trump supporters who considered themselves adversaries to the media. I knew that I was about to enter a situation where people around me were against my having basic human rights. I knew I was about to be surrounded by hate.
It’s an old truth that knowing something objectively is different than experiencing it first hand.
It’s a new truth that glittering underwear doesn’t protect you from such things.
When I first attempted to interview those around me, I was met with about as warm of a reception as Joseph Stalin would be met with at a Gulag. They saw me as a classic example of the media, and most of my potential interview subjects wouldn’t even say no. Instead, I was met with a blank stare and a shaking of the head. So I switched tactics. I began putting a southern accent in order to relate to those around me, and when asked where I was from, I said Kentucky. I got more interviews.
I interviewed a man who called himself John Smith (I’ll go out on a limb and say that’s a pseudonym). He said that the most exciting part of the upcoming Trump presidency was that Trump would crack down on illegal Mexican immigrants. When I interviewed Jeff Jones from Beckville, Texas, he noted that the nomination of a Supreme Court justice was a major factor in his vote, though he said he didn’t care about social issues. To me, those opinions are diametrically opposed. Then I had the unfortunate luck of discussing Obamacare with a woman actually from Kentucky. She noted how her health insurance premiums had gone up, then asked me which part of Kentucky I was from. I said the south.
The most notable moment ended up occurring before Trump was even sworn in. It was during Chuck Schumer’s speech, when he asked for unity among all races, religions, sexual orientations and gender identities. At the sound of that, the crowd around me booed. For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to be around a true example of bigotry.
The rest of the inauguration was a blur. Trump’s speech had virtually no effect on me. The people around me certainly enjoyed it. The mother from Columbus, Ohio, standing next to me wept tears of joy from Mike Pence’s swearing in onwards.
Later that night I wept tears of a different kind.
What I got from the experience is thus: It is easy to hate. At this point, to hate is to be involved in American politics. However, if we as a society want to forge ahead, then we have to form an understanding with those whom we violently disagree with. It won’t always be easy, it won’t always feel right, but hate is what got us here, so love has to get us out.
And no, I have no idea how big the crowd size was.
Jason Frank is a junior at ConVal High School.